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Wine bar on 2200 Penn opens doors
By Ella Mitchell, Contributing News Editor • June 14, 2024

Groups petition for solar panels

Students and organizations across campus are banding together to form a petition to support the installation of solar panels on the roofs of the Marvin Center, Funger and Duques halls, the president of Green GW said this week.

Sophie Waskow, a spokeswoman for the Office of Sustainability, said her office is on board with the project and is helping to come up with a financial analysis of how much the addition of solar panel energy would cost the University. Waskow said she is working with Green GW and Net Impact – a student group on campus focused on the environmental movement – to determine the feasibility of the project.

Spencer Olson, president of Green GW, said his organization is helping voice student support for solar power implementation to University administrators.

“We are trying to get the GW community to show that they are really supportive of solar [energy] on campus and renewable energy,” Olson said. “Especially with the GW Solar Institute, it just makes sense for us to have solar [energy] on campus.”

Andy Ludwig, the co-president of Net Impact, said the petition will ultimately be sent to many GW administrative departments, including Facilities Management, the Office of Sustainability and the Executive Vice President and Treasurer’s Office, to show the University’s support for the project.

Waskow said there are two methods of installing solar panels at the University that her office is currently vetting. One would be to form a “purchase power agreement,” where an energy company would pay for and install the solar panels at the University, and then GW would be responsible for paying the company for the energy that the panels produce. At the end of the contract, the University would be forced to purchase the panels. The other method would entail the University simply purchasing the solar panels and then reaping the energy from the panels for free.

“The biggest pros of a PPA is that another company finances the installation of the solar panels. Another pro is that as part of the contract, they write in the energy costs from those panels,” said Christina Luthy, a sustainability project facilitator in the Office of Sustainability.

“The potential cons are that it locks you into a technology for the lifetime of a contract, and you can’t predict what having the cost of those panels will be at the end of the contract,” Luthy added. “Then you are potentially stuck with a technology that you don’t want anymore and now own.”

Waskow said the Office of Sustainability is waiting to hear back from a variety of companies that deal with solar power to receive estimates before making a proposal to the Executive Vice President and Treasurer’s Office, which would be responsible for approving this proposal before handing it to the Board of Trustees for final approval.

Olson added that Green GW and Net Impact will collect 2,000 signatures before presenting the petition to administrators. As of Wednesday, the petition had 431 signatures.

The group came to the 2,000-signature figure because they wanted to get the support of 10 percent of the undergraduate and graduate population at GW, Olson said, adding that he thinks the goal is feasible.

Green GW, in addition to creating a Facebook page to promote the petition, has sent out e-mails to many student organizations on campus, asking the leaders to forward the petition over their listervs.

“It’s being publicized through all sorts of social networks, but basically it’s a viral approach,” Ludwig said. “Most information about the petition was sent via [e-mail lists] with the request to send it on to five friends.”

This past fall, Catholic University installed the largest solar-energy system in the D.C. area, with more than 1,000 solar panels on four buildings, said Brian Alexander, director of energy management and utilities at Catholic. The school took the PPA approach, partnering with Washington Gas Energy Services. WGES installed the 1,088 panels there, and Catholic is responsible for paying WGES for the energy the panels produce, Alexander said.

The coalition of student organizations and the Office of Sustainability both said they are very interested in the role solar panels could play in the development of the Climate Action Plan – due in early May – that will detail how GW plans to become carbon-neutral.

“This seems like a really popular way [to go carbon-neutral]. There is a lot of student support for it,” Olson said.

Emily Cahn contributed to this report.

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